Once a ham (operator), always a ham

Have you ever wanted a hobby that took you all over the world without ever leaving home? Tom Roscoe of Brookfield has just such a hobby.

At age 12, Tom and his friend John O’Connor made a small receiver out of one of his mother’s cake pans and parts from an old television and began broadcasting. His father then bought him a proper receiver and Tom began studying for his ham radio operator license.

A ham radio operator is a person who uses a particular radio to participate in a two-way communication with another ham. This is done on assigned radio frequencies, regulated by the Federal Communications Commission.

Each ham operator is given a call sign to use to distinguish him or her in a given communication. It is estimated that there are about 3 million ham operators in the world.

In order to pass his exam, Tom needed to know Morse code. Happily, there was a ham radio club in nearby Sharon, Pa., giving lessons in Morse code. He passed his test, received his license and the call letters K8CX. (Morse code is no longer required for licensure.)

Since that day, nearly 50 years ago, Tom has been on the radio at least once a day. In that time he has joined an elite few ham radio operators who have spoken to one ham radio operator in every country of the world, either in Morse code, by voice, or digitally. Tom has also traveled to such foreign locations as Aruba and Puerto Rico to compete in ham radio competitions. These competitions are held for a specific number of days. The goal is to contact as many other ham operators in as many countries as possible. Tom always ranks very high in these competitions.

Over the years, he has received many cards from other ham radio operators. These cards, called QSL cards, are the way in which they validate their contact with one another. For example, when Tom contacts an operator in Italy that operator mails him a postcard with his/her call number, a self-addressed envelope, and money for postage to send Tom’s own card back to them in Italy. Because he has received so many cards, Tom decided to put up a Web site and post some of this correspondence online at hamgallery.com.

He has received collections of cards from ham operators who have either passed away or who have for some reason given up radio operation. These collections now represent an archive of ham radio history. On the Web site, Tom will put up a card, write text as to how he came by the card and sit back and wait. Invariably, someone will see the card on the Web site and contact him with additional information about that particular operator. Tom hopes to put these all in a book one day.

Tom also posts tributes to ham operators of the past. He has thousands of photographs of various operators in their ”ham shacks.” A ham shack is where the operator broadcasts; it might be his/her basement or perhaps a shed in the backyard.

The camaraderie among ham operators is infectious. Every year they meet in Dayton for a ”Ham-vention.” It is here that operators from around the world can actually meet face-to-face with people they have been talking to for years. Last year it was attended by 23,000 people. Tom has attended almost every one. Locally, there are ham radio clubs in Warren, Youngstown and Sharon.

Ham operators like Tom perform many public services as well. During super storm Sandy, ham operators coordinated with FEMA and the National Weather Service to provide communication for the areas hardest hit by the storm. Ham operators also bounce radio signals off of the moon to be able to talk to other operators in extremely distant outposts. They have launched satellites, which enable them to talk to the space shuttle, which Tom has done.

When asked how long he intends to be a ham operator Tom just smiles and says, ”I don’t know, I love it!” I guess, as the old saying goes: Once a ham, always a ham.

Beckes-O’Connor is a Brookfield resident. Email her at editorial@tribtoday.com.